The supercomputer for designing automotive aerodynamics

[Categories Technology]

The aerodynamics of every new car built by Spanish manufacturer, SEAT, is designed using a supercomputer, housed in a deconsecrated chapel, with the power of 40,000 PCs.

The MareNostrum 4 supercomputer is the most powerful in Spain and Is the seventh most powerful in Europe, with a massive 165,888 processors at its disposal.

SEAT – which sells some 60,000 new cars in the UK each year – uses the machine to design the aerodynamic stylings of its cars, helping to make the vehicles safer and more efficient.

The behemoth computer is kept in a 180 square-metre disused chapel in the North Campus of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona, where it is housed in a constant ambient temperature of 24 degrees Celsius as part of the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC).

Using the system means that SEAT engineers can complete analysis that would otherwise take months in just a few hours.

Enhancing vehicle aerodynamics consists of lowering its air drag coefficient, so the main areas of a car that SEAT uses MareNostrum 4 to analyse are the front and rear ends, undercarriage, tyres and wheels. Traditionally, these would be worked on using a clay model of the car in a wind tunnel.

BSC researcher Oriol Lehmkuhl said: "With SEAT, I study the impact of wheel hub geometry on the aerodynamics of the cars. Each point is analysed by a set of processors working in parallel. If they were analysed individually, it would take months."

María García-Navas, an engineer in SEAT’s Department of Development and Aerodynamics, said: "Working with a wind tunnel is expensive and clay models deteriorate, so constant changes have to be made. The computing power of the BSC supercomputer enables us to include more parameters to see how air behaves inside the rims when the wheels are moving. The idea is to increasingly narrow the gap between simulation and reality."

MareNostrum 4 is used by scientists from across the globe to simulate everything from how the human heart works to making predictions about climate change. MareNostrum 5 is already under development and would increase the capacity of the current machine by more than 20 times.

The MareNostrum 4, facts and figures

The supercomputer

3,456 nodes
6,912 chips
165,888 processors
13.7 petaflops
78,000 kilos in weight

The facility

180 square metres
24 degree ambient temperature
36% relative humidity
19 tonnes of glass
26 tonnes of steel

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